The Word Guy / Knowledge

Good King 'Whence' Is Lost

Q. I hope you can help me with two language problems. The first involves the word "whence." Is it "the evil spirit returned whence it came" or "from whence it came"? The second involves the word "suffice." Is it "suffice to say" or "suffice it ...

A Fresh Look at 'Stalemate'

Is "stalemate," meaning "a deadlock," related to "stale," meaning "old, not fresh"? You might think so, because as anyone who follows Congress knows, stalemates can get awfully stale after a while.

In fact, "stalemate" is related not to "stale,...

Plural Questions Have No Easy Antlers

Q. I drive a school bus, and this morning one of my seventh graders said to me, "Monte, did you see those deers on the side of the road?" I explained to him that certain words, like "deer," are both singular and plural. Why is that? -- Monte ...

Send in the Nouns

Q. I was taught that the possessive should be used before nouns ending in "-ing." For example, one would say, "Your laughing ruined the mood," rather than, "You laughing ruined the mood." Yet it always seems that people are using the latter ...

'Lay' or 'Lie'? Oh My!

Q. Has it become acceptable to use "lay" instead of "lie," as in "the dog is laying down"? I hear and see many reporters, journalists and other well-educated people using "lay" for "lie." -- Hilde Reichenbach, Essex, Conn.

A. Hilde, I hereby ...

Clarity Is Not an Option

Today, three dispatches from the Word Front...

--Double Talkers -- Bill from Acton, Mass., notes the double meaning of a sentence from the rules governing public meetings in his town. They state that people must speak politely and respectfully,...